Mindfulness

No 8. A Hobby Can Improve Your Productivity

I recently read an article in the New York Times that claimed procrastination is not a time management issue.  It is an emotional regulation issue. (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/smarter-living/why-you-procrastinate-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-self-control.html)

When we put something off, we are likely experiencing a negative emotion or mood; boredom, fear, anxiety, insecurity, self-doubt, etc..  We also delay because the task we are avoiding requires acute concentration and focus, a long, uninterrupted block of time, or creates an unwanted situational or emotional consequence. 

When I get stuck in this frustrating state, my first thought is often to distract myself with a simple task that might be important but is not time sensitive, which usually leads to dissatisfaction. 

All that we fear does not exist.

Doing things now often takes less time and less emotional energy than putting them off until later. Interestingly, I often find that the task I was stressing over was considerably easier than the mental image I created (this is certainly not always the case).  Sometimes we are overwhelmed, and instead of adding another item to our task list, we need to take a break and recover. 

The mind that created the problem…

It is in taking the opposite approach that has proven most helpful.  I have found that creating space to do things I enjoy, reduces my likelihood of procrastinating to begin with.  In essence, if my physical and emotional states are balanced, I am ready to tackle any tasks. 

What is balance?

In my experience, mental and emotional balance comes from activities that stimulate both hemispheres of the brain.  I have no shortage of left brain stimulation, between business, abundant personal obligations, and being a single parent of twins.  Creating time for right brain activities is critical for my well-being. 

Activities that activate my right brain and bring me into the present moment:

-    Meditation

-    Playing guitar or drums

-    Stretching, yoga or going for a walk

-    Any form of cardiovascular exercise

-    Being in nature

-    Doing something fun with my twins

-    Driving in a circle – i.e. racing my Mazda Miata or on an open road with no traffic or cell phone

-    Listening to music or going to live shows

I recently committed to spending three hours every week in nature.  I do this during the work week as a reminder that this time is an investment in my overall productivity.  This quiet time is for self-reflection, getting clear about what I want and allowing new ideas to surface.  Since starting this practice, I have noticed a turbo boost in motivation, especially to do the things I’ve been putting off and the essential items that move me toward my long term goals.   

We live in a world bombarded by distractions and external stimuli; our minds and nervous systems are often overwhelmed.  Hobbies and self-care are essential for our health and wellness.  Creating space for these activities grounds us, re-centers our minds, and bring us back into the present moment.  After all, what is life for?  What is most important?  Instead of projecting our happiness into the future, we can commit to taking time to care for ourselves and allow our productivity to flourish and the abundance of possibilities to flow. 

No 7. A Perfect Reflection

I have always wanted to be a father.  I am fortunate; my dad is a genuine, loving man, my mentor, my soccer coach, and biggest fan.  He has always been supportive and passed on many essential values:  honesty, integrity, charity, service to community, commitment to family, respect for others, humor; the list goes on.

Amidst all the excitement and joy of being a new father, I was shocked to realize the depth of self-awareness and the crystal clear reflection, mirrored by my twins.  Wow!  After fifteen years of deep, inward work, the dense mass and burning in my solo plexus was often charged as if I saw an ex-lover with a new beau.  Ouch! 

The first and most salient emotional response I experienced was when either (or both) of the twins would cry for longer than a couple of minutes.  After extensive writing and conversations with several conscious fathers, I realized that this anger was common.  In truth, I was experiencing fear that my own needs would go unmet.  My mind wanted to blame them when the projection of my own emotion was the cause, preventing an empathetic response. 

Additionally and contrary to the suggestions of some “professionals” (with which I vehemently disagree), I lay down with the twins every night until they fall asleep.  I found myself getting very upset during the squirmy, frustrating twenty minutes it took them to finally fall asleep.  I wanted so bad for them to instantly be quiet, close their eyes, and turn off their engines.  After dinner, bathing, drying, brushing teeth, several bouts of intense negotiation, and dressing two babies, I was exhausted.  I wanted to clean up the house and kitchen so I could relax or tackle a couple of critical work tasks, i.e., my selfish agenda. 

One of the most powerful practices I developed was meditating during this time, focusing on the feeling that was rising in my stomach, allowing and acknowledging the emotion, not the bullshit meaning my mind created to distract me from the discomfort.  After eight months of practice, the upsetting response dissipated.

We now enjoy some of the most intimate and sweet moments together during this time.  Fear has transcended into love and connection.   

Situations that incite the most poignant emotional responses:

-    Incessant crying and/or whining

-    When I have an agenda, need to get something done, and the twins demand my attention

-    The twenty minutes of squirming and delay tactics before bedtime

-    When I am agitated or experiencing F.E.A.R. (false events appearing real)

-    At night or in AM when I am tired (and fussy!)

Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) I have come to realize I often act in similar ways.  After all, our kids are simply an expression of our own nervous systems and the physiological and emotional lineage of our ancestry.  It is humbling to imagine what they carry into the world and what a beautiful gift it is for them to teach us. 

To develop empathy and compassion during these frustrating situations, and to better understand myself, I have found the following questions to be helpful. 

 -   What situations incite the most frustration or irritation in me?

-    In what ways does this situation remind me of my behavior?

-    How would I want to be treated in this situation?

-    How can I guide and share my experience while allowing them the freedom to be themselves?

I still find myself fussy when I am tired and occasionally when the kids cry for long periods.  Writing and talking about my emotions has transformed my experience as a father.  Through consistent, personal reflection, I have been able to name my part, take responsibility for my reactions and develop a deep sense of empathy and compassion in situations that used to frustrate and overwhelm me.  I anticipate so much growth ahead, so many more layers to peel away as we pass through stages of maturity in ourselves. 

Before the twins were born, a spiritual teacher told me that they would be the perfect medicine.  I had no idea, the extent to which her prophecy would become true.  As is always the case in my limited experience, the best opportunities for personal and spiritual growth arrive when our emotions are aroused fully.  It is in this place that we are undoubtedly human, can witness our imperfect nature and grow toward God if we choose. 

My children are the most important reason for living today. They teach me how to love, unconditionally. They offer a perfect reflection to round off the edges of my character, like stones in a raging river. Being a father is not always pretty, but it is always love, and always about about self-acceptance. My children are my best teachers.

No 6. - The Root of Happiness

Gratitude…... 

Gratitude gives us the power to reclaim our joy and puts everything into perspective, like looking at the stars in a dark sky.  It melts away want and self-centeredness and plants our feet firmly back on the ground. 

It's easy to remember on a beautiful, sunny day like today, as I write, sitting on the banks of Barton Creek.  The times I am most in need of this sacred practice are when I find myself, intolerant of others, afraid of a future (and unlikely) event, or lost in the past.  Gratitude brings us back to the holy now, this moment.  The moment that nourishes, engages all of our senses and, reminds us of oneness. Often, I need to be reminded.  When I'm struggling, when bombarded by negative, subconscious thoughts or when I've eaten poorly, the day (or two) before, and feeling depressed or unmotivated.  Establishing regular practices of gratitude keeps wind in our sails and allows us to tap into our most humble, authentic self. 

Practices for Gratitude:

-    Meditation and Prayer

-    Surrender – When stuck or overwhelmed, a simple acknowledgment that our control is limited and often an illusion.  We can instead, turn over the outcome to the God of our understanding. 

-    Gratitude List – at times I have done this daily, it is a powerful way to re-center

-    Be of service - a simple act of kindness

-    Embrace or engage with a child

-    Say thanks before every meal

Gratitude has the power to reset our priorities, allow healing tears, and deeply connect us to the state of joy, the root of happiness.  I feel a deep sense of gratitude for my life, this moment, the nature that surrounds me, my family, my beautiful, sweet twins, my health and the health of my family, my teachers (i.e. everyone I attract into my life), my self-awareness, my commitment to personal and spiritual development, my assets and all potential areas for growth. 

In the Lakota tradition, the word Aho implies agreement and is loosely translated, "Amen." The simple practice of gratitude offers so much.  Aho.

No. 3 - Meditation Changed my Life

After 15 years of serious commitment to personal and spiritual growth, I credit meditation as one of the single most transformative practices that changed my life.  Twelve years ago I was struggling with anxiety and panic disorder and following the advice of a doctor, elected to take prescription medication.  The doctor said I would likely never be able to manage life without drugs.  I got serious about meditation.  Twenty minutes a day and two years later, I stopped taking the meds and never looked back.  Fast forward to today, I maintain a daily practice and have rarely experienced similar symptoms.  What was at first a step to take responsibility for my mind and mental health has now become the source of infinite consciousness, awareness, and joy. 

Meditation has many well-documented benefits including increasing brain mass of the medial prefrontal cortex, which leads to higher concentration and attention.  Research also points to a reduction in the mass of the amygdala, part of our primal base brain responsible for fight or flight.  In essence, over time, our lower, primal stress responses are supplanted with more conscious ones, which originate from the higher functions of our brain.  In addition to stress reduction, meditation is used to treat a variety of conditions ranging from anxiety and depression, chronic pain, addiction, and tinnitus.  Some evidence suggests it can expedite recovery from cancer. 

People often tell me they want to begin meditating but don’t have the time or don’t know how to start.  View your practice as an investment, not a sacrifice.  Meditation slows down time and provides a baseline of calm and self-awareness that lasts throughout the day; the time you dedicate will pay dividends. 

Interestingly, I’ve consistently heard friends say they “aren’t good at it.”  The initial objective of meditation is not to remain in a constant state of attunement or bliss, but to train our minds by practicing returning to attunement once we realize our attachment to thought.  If we are distracted 100 times in a 10-minute meditation, that is 100 opportunities to practice returning to our center. 

There are many forms of meditation including, guided, silent and chanting.  All have many benefits although, for this post, I will concentrate on silent, mindful meditation, which includes forms such as Transcendental Meditation and Centering Prayer.  Guided meditation is an excellent way for a beginner to establish a practice, although a primary goal of meditation is to learn to let go and disengage with the mind and its incessant thoughts, which is difficult when focused on a speaking guide.  I have found the most simple form to share with beginners is Centering Prayer, which is identical to Transcendental Meditation, except it suggests a self-chosen word to return to attunement, versus a mantra provided by a guru. 

Simple Meditation Steps:

-    Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine

-    Pick a word, two-syllables or less with a peaceful or loving meaning

-    Sit in silence with eyes closed, breath into your low belly, your attention focused between your eye-brows

-    Observe thoughts that arise, let them pass like a log floating down a river

-    When you realize you are attached to a thought, lovingly and calmly say (eventually think) the word and return to attunement

 

A few suggestions that may help your practice:

-    Move and stretch for a few minutes before you sit

-    Meditate in the AM so you may return to the peaceful state throughout the day

-    Consistency is key:  5-10 min/daily can be more rewarding than 20 min 2-3 times/week

-    If you miss a day or two, be gentle with yourself, simply recommit to your practice

-    20 min a day is recommended, a second 20 min sit can be transformative

One of the most helpful bits of advice I garnered from a meditation course taught by the late Father Thomas Keating was, “when you realize you are attached to a thought, speak the chosen word as if a feather were landing on a pillow”.  The practice of being gentle with ourselves is contrary to the response of frustration we may initially feel as we learn to accept that thoughts have limited meaning and are often based on fear, from deep in the subconscious mind.  Over time, attunement will shift from focus between eyebrows to a state of observing your thoughts and feeling connected to your whole being and nervous system, often without awareness of the body; this is the state of bliss and the beginning of a relationship with our self.  

Meditation is not a religion although I consider it a form of deep prayer.  At the very least if you are more emotionally balanced and in tune with yourself, you will be more peaceful in your relationships and community.  Regardless what your faith is, meditation puts us consistently in a state of communion with ourselves and to the part of us that recognizes our connection to the whole.  Rumi so eloquently said “Everything in the universe is inside you.  Ask all of yourself.”  

No. 2 - The World is my Mirror

Blessings come in many forms.  Some are obvious: new relationships, financial gains, a healthy newborn child, a moment of clarity in our personal or spiritual growth.  These are easy to accept.  In my experience, the most valuable blessings come by way of difficult challenges, temporary setbacks, friction in relationships and the awareness of my own impatient and fear-based reactions.

We attract what we are (or have been); with few exceptions. In the vast majority of cases where I have found myself upset, blaming and pointing the finger at others, I have played a part in creating and/or attracting the person or situation, directly or indirectly.  I find this especially true with my sweet twins, who are a perfect mirror of myself and my emotional state. It's not always easy to see and can be quite unsettling to admit, but I am constantly faced with situations that provide me with opportunities to deepen my self-awareness and grow, for which I am truly grateful. Sometimes our agitation is a result of a differing opinion but in my experience, the vast majority of cases are a pure reflection of self.

If we allow our reaction to steal our joy for the next hour or days, it's worth an honest look to identify the origin of those emotions. A deeper dive often reveals a degree of our own insecurity and fear.

It is so easy to focus attention on others when we are angry and afraid.  We all have an ego and for those of us committed to dissolving the false self, confronting is necessary along with acknowledgment and surrender.  The quicker I’m willing to get real and honest about my part, the more quickly I return to a state of peace.  

One of my teachers offered the following questions which I regularly ask myself when experiencing resentment, frustration, anger and other forms of fear.  

-    What is the cause?

-    What do I want?

-    How is my ego attempting to appear?

-    What am I afraid of?

-    What am I unwilling to admit?

-    Where am I at fault?  or  Where did I put myself in a position to be hurt? 

-    What can I do instead (of creating suffering)? 

Becoming genuinely honest with ourselves takes time.  It takes practice to peel enough of the ego away to see the depths of ourselves.  When we think we have it licked, situations arise that make apparent how cunning the ego can be and the layers yet removed before our authentic self reveals.  This process is frightening at first, like walking into the darkness with a flashlight.  The exploration of these questions is best practiced through writing and sharing them in communion with a companion who is both willing and capable of brutal honesty.  A good friend will often take our side in an effort not to hurt us.  We need the truth, not someone to co-sign our bullshit. 

The freedom we seek in these uncomfortable moments will only come from the clarity of our role in any given situation.  We are creating the world with every thought and action; we are responsible for the outcomes.  My children, my friends, my adversaries and all situations, especially those that incite agitation and discomfort, are my best teachers and often lead to blessings in many forms.   

Our egos have developed as our conscious minds have evolved.  They attempt to protect us or as I have found, distract us from acknowledging the depth of our emotions and knowing ourselves.  Rewards abound from breathing into discomfort and creating space to ask the difficult questions which lead to the peace and joy that we are. 

No. 1 - Renewal of Spring

In the modern west, January 1, is considered the annual beginning while in many other communities and cultures, spring and the Spring Equinox represent rebirth, bringing cleansing, fertility and the planting and budding of new seeds.

The modern, Gregorian Calendar, was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.  Before, the Roman Julian Calendar had been the dominant system proposed by Julius Caesar in 46 BC.  The Gregorian Calendar is adopted in most countries, although traditional lunar, solar and lunisolar calendars remain in use throughout Africa, Asia and parts of Europe to recognize religious festivals and holidays. 

Calendars play a critical role in the life cycle and workflow of agriculture and the celebration of the seasons. Depending on the location of a community and its orientation to the sun, will dictate how it organizes itself to harmonize with nature and the cyclical climate.

The zestful feeling of spring and its fever are among us.  It’s a beautiful season, a time to thaw, open the windows and enjoy.  The welcome warmth of this cherished moment brings communion, a sense of joy and gratitude, energy and excitement.  Spring is also a time to reflect, ground and plan for the coming year. 

Here are some questions I’ve been asking myself as I surrender to and celebrate the rebirth of this new year:

-    What does success mean to me?

-    What things did I attract into my life last year and what lessons did they bring?

-    What would I like to leave behind?

-    Are there people with whom I would like to spend more or less time?

-    In what ways would I like to serve my family and my community this year?

-    Is there anyone with whom I have withheld forgiveness? 

-    What is my commitment to self-care? 

-    What things am I committed to working on, starting or finishing?

-    What do I want to create in the world?

These questions are just a few to stimulate a dialog with ourselves to reconnect our intentions and spiritual essence with the cycle of life. 

Do you want to begin a new hobby, create a consistent morning routine, spend more time with specific family members or friends?  Do you want to change your job, professional career or start a business?  The newness of spring reflects the limitless possibilities of our health, lifestyle and emotional state.  Joy and happiness come from within; our ability to create and take ownership of them is within our control.  In my experience, creating space to reflect on my growth, the lessons and blessings life has so abundantly provided and what I want to create, sets the sail for a great year ahead.

What do you want to create in your life and this world?  What do you want to leave behind?  What do you want to attract and therefore, what do you want to become?